“The Project and the Challenge”
Many people have asked me over the past year why I created The Kectil Program. And why I am spending so much time and effort on it? Why such a large project? Why should we spend family money on this? Why am I spending weekends answering emails from countries I have never visited to speak with youth I have never met? And on and on.
I answer that it is “The Project and the Challenge.”
We think life is long but it is very short. And we have no idea what day it will be over. Physicists now tell us that the universe was created about 13.5 billion years ago and that we are all made of stardust (I like that idea!). It is also estimated that our universe has about 5 billion years left before it starts contracting. If we live 100 years out of that 18.5 billion years, we are lucky.
Add to that the odds that any of us will be born at all. Imagine how many individual eggs and sperm existed on the day we were conceived—what are the odds that the exact two would come together to form each of us? And the ratio of pairs that did not result in a life greatly dwarfs those few that did. Every person who walks on this earth is a winner who has already won the lottery. We were given the extraordinary gift of the right to exist for a short time. We should wake up every morning with appreciation, regardless of our circumstances.
I am reminded of one of my favorite childhood books, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. If you haven’t read it and don’t mind reading a child’s book, I recommend it. It is the story of Alice Rumphius, a woman who wanted to go to faraway places and then live by the sea. As a young woman, she traveled to many spots with great adventure. She then settled into a seaside town and realized there is one thing left to do: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” After a hard winter, Alice noticed that the gorgeous purple, blue and rose lupine flowers survive the cold weather. She immediately knew what to do. She ordered lupine seeds and dropped them all over her town. The lupines prospered, turning her community into a magical sight enjoyed by all.
The message is clear-we each need to search for that one thing we can do—“The Project”—that will make the world a more beautiful place than if you had not been the one of the infinitesimally few to win the lottery and experience life. I am strongly of the conviction that each person who has been given the miracle of life against all odds should at some point in his/her life select and carry out a Project that is of a scale equal to what has been given to that person in assets and ability during life. It should be something that is given with nothing expected in return and it should be something that makes the world a little bit better than when you got here. It is a gift.
I spent many years thinking about what my ”Project” should be. After my mother died in July 2015, it immediately came to me, as it did to Miss Rumphius, what I should do. I had also traveled the world and met many people. I am unusually fortunate to work with many great minds. I decided to create a family foundation to network youth in developing countries as a communications and growth platform for ethical leadership, career building and global understanding. The Kectil Program is my “Project”. It is my gift and it is my hope that this unique forum for talented youth grows as well as lupines spread across the fields.
What about “The Challenge”? The challenge is to think of something that is impossible, and then achieve it. The Kectil Program is also an example of “The Challenge”.
When this Program was imagined, I had no idea how to accomplish it. Most would say it isn’t possible for a small group of people to put together a program like this, much less in one year. I didn’t know what the framework should look like. I had to manage the creation of a website and then an application portal, having no experience in running a non-profit foundation, much less global recruitment. I had to publicize it so talented youth would come to the site and participate. I had to recruit faculty, mentors and an unparalleled Advisory Board. And I had to accomplish all of this while working full time as a lawyer at a firm I founded, while meeting all of the clients’ expectations and deadlines.
Kectil could not have been accomplished without leaning heavily on others with great talent and passion, who stepped up to help spread the word and provide advice and direction. The Kectil Directors, my children Brooke Shafer and Chris Zalesky, gave essential help and support with infrastructure and youth perspective. The Advisory Board, all volunteers, spent hours of their valuable time with suggestions, introductions, and contributions of content.
My challenge to you is likewise to aim higher than you think you are able to go, and then figure out a way to get there and surpass it. You have the ability, talent and passion to do this. We hope this Program will be a small contribution to your journey to accomplish the impossible.